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Monday, July 31, 2017

Live today, not tomorrow

Today is a day that will not come again - you have but one chance to live it, so live it well. A lot of people focus so much on living today to make a "good tomorrow" that they miss what is going on around them right here and now. One day, Ferris Bueller took a day off from school - ditched classes to just live his day to the fullest. A quote from the movie sums up why he did what he did: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." I don't condone ditching class, but the point is made - life comes at us at speeds often exceeding our own ability to keep up and before we know it, we have witnessed opportunity after opportunity to pass us by without any guarantee they will come our way again.

13 Some of you say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to some city. We will stay there a year, do business, and make money.” Listen, think about this: 14 You don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Your life is like a fog. You can see it for a short time, but then it goes away. 15 So you should say, “If the Lord wants, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15 ERV)

The saying, "Lord willing and the creek don't rise," might actually be a play on words from the Book of James. The saying goes one step further, though. It indicates we will do something provided there is no obstacle that is placed in our path. I don't know about you, but life comes at me full of obstacles - I don't get too many opportunities without some type of obstacle smack-dab in my way of the opportunity! There are always going to be "unforeseen circumstances" in life - plan as we might, not all opportunities will just fall into our lap, come about as planned, and work out to our benefit. Life is work - it must be lived with intent.

God brings opportunities our way, not so much because we always deserve them, but because he has "designs" in those opportunities. Not all opportunities will be seen as "enjoyable" or "good" - some are given because we need to come to terms with an element of stubbornness on our part, or remedy some riff in a relationship caused by some selfish action. These are the ones we have to "work at" a little more than the ones we label as "good" or "enjoyable". We cannot always plan that moment of reconciliation, but when God is in control of the plans, the moment will come and we better be ready!

I don't know what opportunities will come your way today - but life isn't going to be without obstacles. Some of those opportunities you are given might require some maneuvering around, or complete removal of those obstacles in order to realize the fulfillment of the opportunity God has planned for us. We might have to pay attention a little closer to the opportunities in our path and a little less on the ones down the path if we are to realize the full benefit of the path! Just sayin!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sometimes you win...sometimes you just run

I also saw other things in this life that were not fair. The fastest runner does not always win the race; the strongest soldier does not always win the battle; wise people don’t always get the food; smart people don’t always get the wealth; educated people don’t always get the praise they deserve. When the time comes, bad things can happen to anyone! (Ecclesiastes 9:11 ERV)

It is probably more common than you may think that people want to "win" - they believe life has to be "fair" or "equitable" in some form. While this isn't exactly a "wrong" ideal, it is not founded in reality at all! I am not sure why "sportsmanship" had to be taught with the philosophy of not keeping score or not declaring any one team a winner - such as in a young person's game of T-Ball. Everyone getting a trophy or medallion for "participating" is fine, but in truth, there are always going to be winners and losers in this lifetime. Sometimes we need to recognize the "winning" isn't in that we crossed the finish line first - but in the fact we kept running ever-increasingly longer or harder races until we one day recognized we actually "won" the race!


Little "races" add up to bigger ones when we don't give up on the running. If a person wants to run a marathon, he or she doesn't stop at running around the block six times this week. In fact, next week they may add another block or even two. Why? Endurance increases the more we run the small "races". We don't win the race because we set out on it at an all-out run - we win it because we run a consistently paced one! The same is true in warfare - we don't win the battle in one big effort - we win it with the smaller, well executed ones until these all mount up to the "big one". A couple of things we need to remember as we start each new day:


1. You ARE starting a new day. Each new day is just that - a place to START. We might think we are defeated because we didn't accomplish everything as we planned to the day prior, but with each new day there is this chance to run the next leg of the race - to add to that which has come before, or choose to run a totally new one if that one didn't work out so well for you.


2. You AREN'T committed to the race just because you are declared the winner. You are committed to the race because you are running it! Those on the sidelines are observing you - they aren't committed to running the race - you are! Don't let anyone make you feel less than perfect, or "less than" in anyway simply because you don't cross the finish line each time you set out to run. It is the small progress you make added to the next time you make small progress that eventually gets you the prize!


3. You DON'T have to always run. Sometimes it is okay to walk. Pace yourself in this pursuit toward godliness. It isn't an all-out sprint to the finish line. It is made up of some days of crawling and other days of sprinting - with variations of that "pace" everywhere in between.


4. You DO want to get up and do it again. There is no limit to what you can accomplish in God's grace. There isn't anything magic in winning - it is hard work and it sometimes requires what we don't seem to have. We will find all we need in God's grace - but we have to embrace it and lean into it in order for it to fuel us for what lies ahead. Just sayin!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Oh, I remember!

It was Douglas MacArthur who reminded us, "You are remembered for the rules you break." It isn't the list of ones we keep that come to mind when others think of us at times, but those we might have not done so good of a job with! We take that one monumental stumble down some wrong path and wouldn't you know, it becomes a thing of infamy we cannot live down! Maybe it is actually us doing the remembering, holding those "broken rules" against ourselves, not willing to let go of their memory or the hold those stumbles seem to have on us. Either way, we find ourselves dealing with continual embarrassment, coupled with the desire to just have it forgotten!

Help me understand your instructions, and I will think about your wonderful teachings. I am sad and tired. Say the word, and make me strong again. Don’t let me live a lie. Guide me with your teachings. I have chosen to be loyal to you. I respect your laws. I follow your rules closely, Lord. Don’t let me be put to shame. I do my best to follow your commands, because you are the one who gives me the desire. (Psalm 119:27-32 ERV)

Remembering, or being remembered for our failures can be kind of tiring. We just want it to "go away", if even for a little while. Why do our falls become monumental, while our day-to-day obedient steps almost blend into the woodwork? I think it is because we humans like to have things we can sensationalize because it takes the pressure off of us - if even for a little while. We need only look as far as the evening news to realize that! More and more "reality" shows come out all the time, sensationalizing everything from a bunch of strangers trying to live with each other to survive on deserted islands, to courtroom verdicts being passed down while our dirty laundry is made public to the masses. 

Being remembered for, or us being the ones to continually remind ourselves of those stumbles will get us into a place where we become weighed down (sad) and exhausted by attempting to manage through those emotions (tired). We do our best - God does the rest. Have you ever heard that one? It is from this passage! We put one foot in front of the other, even if it is to "rework" a place we have already managed to stumble into repeatedly because of our disobedience. We don't allow that place of our failure to become the place we allow to form our identity. David could have found his identity in being an adulterer, or even a murderer, but he didn't. Did those things probably "get remembered" about him, or even by him from time to time? You bet! Did he allow these things to keep him from his relationship with God, or affect the way he knew God saw him? No!

God doesn't remember us by our failures - he remembers us by his touches of grace and deep furrows of his love he has worked into the places of our lives where he most needs to "work" his work. Herein lies our greatest challenge - allowing ourselves to see God's handiwork as he sees it - but when we begin to see ourselves and others as seen through his eyes, the thing we see is how much his love moves us closer to obedience and further away from our failures! Just sayin!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Take the time

There is a right time for everything, and everything on earth will happen at the right time. There is a time to be born and a time to die. There is a time to cry and a time to laugh. There is a time to be sad and a time to dance with joy. There is a time to hug someone and a time to stop holding so tightly. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 4-5 ERV)

Today is a bitter-sweet day for I will attend the funeral of my best friend's mother. Together we will mourn, and yet, we will celebrate a life well-lived, a woman well-loved. We will embrace each other and hold each other close, languishing just a little longer than usual in that embrace of companionship that connects us in our love and comforts us in our grief. We will cry for there has been a great loss, and yet, we can do nothing more honoring to her life than to hold fast to the memories she created in the hearts of her loved ones, friends, and acquaintenances over her many years on this earth. The greatest challenge for her husband will be to fill the gap created by her passing. The hardest adjustments to be made by her children will be to realize her hand is no longer there to hold, her "mothering" is no longer there to draw from. The deepest grief any of us experiences is that of the loss of someone we have loved and who has loved us well.

Would you indulge me for just a few moments this morning? I have a challenge each of us can embrace, if we so choose, but the choice will be ours to make.

- Who needs your love today more than anything else you could give or bring to them? How long has it been since you have really sat next to them and just enjoyed being with them? If you come to the realization it has been way too long, your challenge today will be to just make that time - for nothing else matters as much as connecting with that one who so desperately needs that connection, too. We will both benefit from the connection!

- Who has God placed in your life that might need not so much your advice as much as they need to have your listening ear and compassionate spirit? The greatest gift we can give one who needs to unburden themselves, sorting through the issues at hand, or even just being able get things off their chest is to be a listening ear and an open heart. Not judging them, not offering them the "fix" for their issues, but just being there to walk it out with them.

- Who has God placed in your path that can no longer do something for themselves, but who may not have anyone to count on to help them manage through whatever it is they need to have done? The smallest acts of service may make the hugest impact in the lives of those who are aging, debilitated, or disabled by disease or injury. No one wants to "ask" for help, but when we recognize the need, could we meet it somehow? We may never know when we are making the connection that helps them see just how much they are loved, honored, and appreciated in our lives.

There is indeed a "right time" for everything. Perhaps today is the "right time" for each of us to step up in the lives of another - to cry, or laugh together; to be sad a while, and then to experience the greatest of joy because we have been together through it all. There is a neck that needs hugging and a life that needs your loving - we cannot let those moments pass us by - for we shall never get them back again. Just sayin!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Fear vs. Dismay

But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:8-10 ERV)

While I recognize our passage is written to the nation of Israel around 600-700 BC, it still has application in our own lives today. The words I'd like us to focus on today are "fear not" and "be not dismayed". For the longest time I thought these both meant the same thing. Sometimes a quick trip to the dictionary lends just a sweet element of revelation you may never have considered! I think we have "overdone" the phrase "fear not" in today's day and age. It has become the bywords of some companies trying to instill the belief their "super-charged" energy drink will give you that burst of energy you need to go above and beyond, or their logo embossed clothing line will give you the edge to push yourself to the limits. The companies who use these words may do so for the purposes of making money, growing their bottom lines with the newest and greatest trends in clothing or flavors of energy drinks. The truth of the matter is that the words alone to "fear not" are not enough to "fuel us" for the journey ahead!

Joyce Meyer reminds us, "The eagle has no fear of adversity. We need to be like the eagle and have a fearless spirit of a conqueror!" The word fear is used to describe the emotional response we experience whenever their is the perception of impending danger, regardless of the perception being real or imagined. This is important because we often have fears that are simply "imagined" - no real basis in reality, but in our way of viewing a circumstance, the fear is very real. Oftentimes, the way to overcome the fear is to "right" the perception. Once I learned the two-wheeler bike would stay upright without a kickstand as long as I was peddling it at a certain speed and with balance attained atop the seat, I no longer feared that bike. I had to change the way I perceived that leap from a tricycle to a rather large, if not over-sized Schwinn! Sometimes we see the "size" of what is at hand and forget God has a much different perspective we can "tap into" to help us see things much closer to reality than our vantage point allows.

Dismay, on the other hand, is more of a continuous condition of the soul. Fear is situational, and goes away as soon as the "threat" leaves us. Bring a needle close to someone who fears shots and they will panic. Remove the needle and they will soon be breathing relaxed once again - the threat being removed, they are able to regain their "balance". Dismay, on the other hand, is that absolute breakdown of one's courage entirely - you are a broken man or woman - defeated sometimes even before you begin. There was a sudden danger or threat that got you to this place, but you never felt a release from the fear and eventually the fear developed into a place where all courage is gone. You are thoroughly discouraged because your heart believes their is no hope. Some refer to this as being "disheartened". Dismay has a way of affecting our inner man - fear might just get us moving a little bit, but being dismayed almost paralyzes us because we see no hope in moving. Dismay has that element of discouragement that fear may not quite carry.

Both are dealt with similarly, though. For God's remedy to both is to settle into his presence and deal with what is at hand. He settles our fear, giving us perspective that allows us to know exactly what to do to remove ourselves from the threat or deal it a defeating blow. He also helps us move into places of new hope, settling our hearts and assuring us of his consistent care and concern for our well-being. Nothing which seeks to utterly discourage us is from God. To overcome these things, we must ask God for his grace to overcome our sense of hopelessness. In his presence, we find hope and help. Nothing can stand against the one who has learned to nuzzle right up into his arms and get his perspective on the things at hand - NOTHING. Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Your actions say???

Ghandi said, "Action expresses priorities." That being the case, what are your actions revealing about your priorities? Who do they say is "Number One" in your life? What do your actions reveal about your purpose and intent in life - focus, determination, and commitment? Right now I am planning on another fishing trip with my BFF, so I am pretty intent on getting the tackle box and rods all ready, gearing up for what we hope will prove to be a successful week of relaxation and angling. Mind you, it is more than five weeks away yet, but I am getting focused on it anyway! I also want to make some time to take my grand boys out into the great outdoors to do some fishing and just hanging with each other - so I am being purposeful about how to plan that since I need to do it at a time when someone is available to be with mom. I need renewal - so I take occasional periods of respite from care giving. I need to pour into the lives of these young men whatever wisdom they will take from me - so I need these uninterrupted times when we can just be with each other. All of our actions reveal our intent or priorities, so maybe we'd be better off looking at what we are "doing" and less at what we are "saying" we will do!

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. (Mark 12:30 ERV)

Since our actions reveal our priorities, my hope is that our actions betray our FIRST priority is this relationship-building that occurs when we spend time with Jesus. As others look at our lives, do they see Jesus as our top priority - do they see him coming through in our actions, no matter what they may be? If not, it might just be we are in line for a few "priority adjustments" to occur for us. If we don't do this adjustment ourselves, God arranges for us to be brought face-to-face with our priorities to ensure we make those needed adjustments! While God isn't opposed to us having fun, if fun is our top priority, dedicating all our free time to just having fun, then we might find the distraction of "fun" gets a little disturbed on occasion - so we will refocus. God also isn't opposed to us having good friends, but if we spend every waking moment with them and neglect family or other responsibilities as a result of the time we spend with them, we might just find God bringing us to a place where we have to "readjust our focus" a little.

I could give us lots of other examples, but I think we get the idea. The actions of our daily lives reveal so much about where our heart is - and Jesus wants our heart to be first with him, then clearly reaching out to take notice and care of the others he places in our lives. In time, when our priorities are rightly-aligned, we begin to see all these things "sort out" so as to make time for the things that re-energize us, such as the respite time, or the time we build into our lives where we just enjoy each other and things we like to do without any cares or concerns except that time we are together. It may be we find more time to volunteer, or give of ourselves - simply because our priorities are getting "better aligned" with what God sees as the "right alignment". If we have doubts about our "alignment", we need only go so far as scripture to know he "lines things up" this way:
1. God
2. Family
3. Church
4. Career
5. Community
You might put other words there to clarify each of these, but we'd all come to pretty much the same list. God is first, family comes next, our brothers and sisters in Christ need us next, and lastly, we have a career. We often invert this, putting career far above anything else, or getting so focused on what our church "needs" of us that we neglect our relationship with God. You might think this impossible since we are doing "church" things, but we can "do" a lot that reveals our mission in doing them isn't to be closer to Jesus, but to fulfill some obligation!

From time to time, set aside a little evaluation period to just look again at what your actions have been saying about your priorities. At present, my first priority after my relationship with Jesus is that of caring for my aging mom. Others in my family and my closest friendships come next, but mom's needs are many right now, so I have to find ways to purposefully balance these other demands. I don't have much time to volunteer at church or do much there, but at present, this is my focus. It isn't that we need to dabble in all the areas at the same time, we just need to be in balance with God at the top as we do! Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Stay or Go?

"The hardest thing in life to learn is which bridge to cross and which to burn." (David Russell) There is certainly some deep wisdom in those words. I think there are times when we wrestle with allowing a bridge to remain and when it should be "taken out" for good. While some bridges bring us to new places us, allowing us safe passage into areas we haven't been before, others allow us to go back to places we should never return to again!

13 Brothers and sisters, I know that I still have a long way to go. But there is one thing I do: I forget what is in the past and try as hard as I can to reach the goal before me. 14 I keep running hard toward the finish line to get the prize that is mine because God has called me through Christ Jesus to life up there in heaven. (Philippians 3:13-14 ERV)

Bridges are designed to support us as we get somewhere. They are prepared with the greatest of care because they are taking us places not so easily discovered or enjoyed without their use. I have crossed suspension bridges high above deep ravines with rushing water far below, and lofty trestle bridges creaking as I pass. Neither of these made me feel all that secure as I crossed over, but I am here today to tell you I made it! Some of the most difficult ones to cross have brought me to the most amazing places in my life!

The bridges I think I actually need to destroy in my life are probably not the rickety ones, or the ones swaying in the wind, but they are the ones which have been well-maintained and easily crossed far too many times for me to count. They are the ones that get me squarely into the territory of anger, distrust, and bitterness. They are paved with jealousy, pride, and fear. Their signs point me in directions justified as "getting me what I deserve", not into directions of getting me into what is "need".

There is much effort put into maintaining some of these bridges - sometimes way more effort than the bridge took to build in the first place! Yet, the places I frequent because of these bridges aren't fertile ground for good growth in my life. They might produce growth, but it ranges from brambles to outright weeds that choke out the good growth God desires for me. Rather than maintain them, I should be blowing them up! 

If you have ever heard the story of Lot and his wife, you will recall an angel of the Lord came to Lot warning him to get out of his hometown because there was about to be an awful destructive force coming against that town. They had become so complacent in their sin that God was bringing judgment. There are times when God isn't going to allow us to just ignore that complacency - he will give us the warning to "get out of Dodge" and then it is time to take action.

The sad part is that Lot's wife looked back - she longed for the bridge that would take her back. If you recall the story, she never made it back! She also never made it to her destination! There is much that needs to be done to destroy our connection with these places of "sinful complacency" - there is nothing wrong with destroying these bridges! Just sayin!


Monday, July 24, 2017

All of God is in Christ - All of Christ is in us

You accepted Christ Jesus as Lord, so continue to live following him.You must depend on Christ only, drawing life and strength from him. Just as you were taught the truth, continue to grow stronger in your understanding of it. And never stop giving thanks to God. Be sure you are not led away by the teaching of those who have nothing worth saying and only plan to deceive you. That teaching is not from Christ. It is only human tradition and comes from the powers that influence this world. I say this because all of God lives in Christ fully, even in his life on earth. 10 And because you belong to Christ you are complete, having everything you need. Christ is ruler over every other power and authority. (Colossians 2:6-10 ERV)
I really want to focus on the last two sentences from this passage today, but wanted you to have the context, as well. Paul is concerned that some of the believers at the Colossian church have become duped into believing "good ideas", but ideas that are really "false" in nature. In other words, he is concerned for the development of their faith and their trust in Christ as the only way to restored relationship with God the Father. As he says, human tradition is not going to be what establishes this connection - it might sound good, but I know I have believed many a piece of folklore only to find out it has no basis in truth! We want our lives founded in truth, and that comes not by holding onto tradition, but by allowing all of Christ to get into us - for in so doing, all of God gets into us!
Had you seen that before in this passage? God lives in Christ - therefore, if Christ lives in us, all of God lives in us! Not just bits and pieces, but ALL of his power, wisdom, might, peace, joy, creative ability, and the list goes on. We are complete, not because we "know Christ", but because he indwells us. His Spirit joins with ours, his Word becomes grafted into the fibers of our being, his thoughts begin to overcome the worthless or troubling thoughts of our own minds, and we begin to understand that the fullness of God indwells us. Where such power exists, it is impossible for anything to stand against it! This is why Jesus reminds us that he and the Father are one - just as we are to be one with him.
When I look at my own life, I oftentimes don't think of it as "complete" - it seems there are things that still need a little attention. My attitude can get a little out of sorts at times; my nose can get a little bent out of shape when I don't get my own way; my hopes can get the best of me on occasion, causing me to break off way more than I can chew. I just don't always do the best with what I have been given - because I have been given far more than I deserve! Yet, God's grace indwells my life - his presence fills my soul - and his strength replaces my weakness. In Christ, all things good, solid, and trustworthy exist. If he indwells our lives, then all these same good, solid, and trustworthy things are part of who we are now. It might just be we need to focus not on what we don't get right in this life, but on what "is right" within us! Just sayin!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Oh, I have to APPLY it?

21 So get rid of everything evil in your lives—every kind of wrong you do. Be humble and accept God’s teaching that is planted in your hearts. This teaching can save you. 22 Do what God’s teaching says; don’t just listen and do nothing. When you only sit and listen, you are fooling yourselves. 23 Hearing God’s teaching and doing nothing is like looking at your face in the mirror 24 and doing nothing about what you saw. You go away and immediately forget how bad you looked. 25 But when you look into God’s perfect law that sets people free, pay attention to it. If you do what it says, you will have God’s blessing. Never just listen to his teaching and forget what you heard. (James 1:21-25 ERV)
There are definitely times when I take a gander in the mirror early some mornings when my first inclination is just to turn away, believing there is absolutely no help! Hair askew, blemishes seeming to bud out of nowhere overnight, and eyes heavy with sleep - things don't look all that promising! But...rather than turn away, I do the best with what I have been given that day. It may not be perfect, but it the best with what I have to work with! In our spiritual lives, there are times when we look in the mirror, turning almost immediately away in a kind of disheartened manner, thinking things will not change in our hearts or minds. Things seem to just "stay the same", or worse yet, they seem to change, but in a negative fashion. We don't like what we see, but we don't know how to change it, either. The good news is that a humble heart and an open mind can actually be the framework by which God can "pile in" his word and create anew what we have no idea how to change!
The Word of God isn't there as a mirror that allows us to ignore or neglect whatever is reflected there - it requires us to deal with what we behold. If you have ever read a certain passage and then said something such as, "Oh my... That certainly hit the nail on the head", then you know exactly how the Word of God is a mirror that does more than "reflect" back to us an image of imperfection. It has a way of showing us not only where those flaws exist, but how to use what we have to see those imperfections made better and better over the course of time, but....we have to apply what we have been given. It is like having all manner of make-up available on the bathroom counter and then just thinking it is going to somehow affect your appearance by just looking at it! Well, duh...it isn't going to just apply itself! You have to do something with what you have at your disposal!
A lot of the time we really do not realize God has planted this good stuff we need in order to realize change in our hearts and minds - it is already planted - it just needs a little cultivating to make any difference! I don't know where you are today in your walk with Jesus, but here are some words of encouragement:
- You have what you need, even when you don't honestly see evidence of it right now. 
- You are the one to put into use what it is you have been given. God isn't slack in what he provides, but we are often "slackers" in what it is we do with what it he has provided. Take the first step and you may just be dazzled with the difference just a little step like that makes.
- You don't have to get it all right the first time you try. I remember putting on eye shadow the first time - I think it was green. Uhm...just so you know, green is not in my color pallet! It didn't look all the good and I put it on way to thick and way to "inexpertly". You have to try sometimes a whole lot of times until you get some of this right - but don't just give up when it doesn't go well the first time - eventually things will "click" and you will be amazed at the results. Just sayin!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

No more white noise

Tell me this one thing: How did you receive the Spirit? Did you receive the Spirit by following the law? No, you received the Spirit because you heard the message about Jesus and believed it. You began your life in Christ with the Spirit. Now do you try to complete it by your own power? That is foolish. You have experienced many things. Were all those experiences wasted? I hope they were not wasted! Does God give you the Spirit because you follow the law? Does God work miracles among you because you follow the law? No, God gives you his Spirit and works miracles among you because you heard the message about Jesus and believed it. (Galatians 3:2-5 ERV)

Do you ever "complicate" things by adding just way too much to the time you take to do something, or by adding so many requirements that must be met before you will do it? I do on occasion and whenever I do, I find myself in a muddle that kind of bogs me down. I don't move at other times simply because I get confused about what I should really do as a result of all the "noise" in my life from that which I have allowed to complicate the picture. Whenever we attempt to "make better" what God has already declared to be "perfect", we just end up adding stuff that we could label as "unnecessary noise".

Paul is dealing with the Galatian church - not just the leaders, but those who have been busy adding "noise" to the daily walk of each of the believers there. In simplest terms, they were requiring some of the old "rules" of the Law of Moses to be kept in addition to the finished work of grace in these believer's lives. Noise - pure and simple - lends complexity, makes it hard to sort things out as well as we should, and makes us work harder to get at the core of what is at hand. As Paul points out, we didn't receive the Spirit of God by following any set pattern of rules - so to reintroduce those into our lives is kind of like adding "noise" to a symphony!

Some of us don't sleep well in a completely quiet house. We need what some refer to as 'white noise' - that little bit of hum produced by the turning ceiling fan, or the gentle in and out breathing of someone in bed next to you. Remove that "white noise" and we are like hyper-alert and just don't get into that place of rest we so desperately desire. In a spiritual sense, when we need all this created 'white noise' of the rules we insist on or requirements we believe must be met in order to achieve some measure of "spiritual position" to make us feel secure about where we are in relationship with God, we miss out on the beauty of the simple "rest" he has for us in this place of grace.

While this may not seem like much at first, the more "noise" we add to the simplicity and sweetness of grace, the less we become comfortable with the peace grace produces in our lives. What we need to do is learn to quiet some of the "noise" and really settle into the peace! Just sayin!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Choose a better diet

From the fruit of his mouth a man eats what is good, but the desire of the treacherous is for violence.  Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. (Proverbs 13:2-3 ESV)

"Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble." (Yehuda Berg) The words we use most frequently reveal a lot about who we are, how we are motivated, what gets our jets fueled, and the things that rile us into action. There don't have to be many of them, but those which are selected to be spoken are the ones that reveal so very much about us!

If you have ever heard the old adage of "eating one's words", you might note the scripture says something similarly. The words of our mouth are what we "dine upon" so very often - because they either reveal fruit which nourishes the soul, or that which makes bitter all it comes into contact with. While I can tolerate a little bitter once in a while, I don't want a steady diet of it! I want there to be a variety of fruit, all with their own luscious "flavor" to lend to the lives of those around me, but not very many "bitter" ones "served up" that overpower the goodness of the others!

When you say you are "eating your words", you are admitting what you said actually was "wrong". Now, if I tell you it is to be a sunny, cloud-free day and you walk out into torrential rainfall, you will return to me drenched and I would "eat my words" on that one. If it is something "recoverable" such as drying one's self off, putting on a dry set of clothes, and setting out again with an umbrella in tow, that is one thing. If those words cut to the quick of your emotions or push against the fabric of your heart, these might just get "eaten" a little more frequently than you might like!

Why is that? Hurtful or harmful words seem to have a "repeat factor" that the good ones don't. Just like the strong onion you eat at dinnertime, both the fragrance and "repeat factor" of that onion stick with you, touching the lives of others in turn. Hurtful words just stick with us - they don't need to be lengthy, nor do they need to be particularly well-spoken. They just hang around a lot longer than we might imagine. Some would think we could shake them off, but that may not be as easy for some to do as you might imagine. They are like that sticky stuff that gets onto something and you just cannot figure out where it keeps coming from, but you feel the affect of it for a long time.

I think this is why so many a political leader, including our own in this country, gets so much attention in the media. Their words matter - and when they are "put out there" before millions of people without much forethought to their outcome, we observe them "eating them" for a lot longer than they ever imagined. Let us learn to use our words wisely, because what gets "eaten" has a way of affecting those who partake of them! Just sayin!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Start...Stop...Start Again

Mark Twain always said the secret of "getting ahead" is to actually "get started". There are a lot of times in life where I want to be "ahead" of where I am, like saving for retirement - as long as I am started on the journey, I am much further ahead than when I first took consideration of the idea! For some of us it is the task of just getting started each and every day that gives us some of the greatest challenges. We have the hardest time even getting out of bed, let alone actually accomplishing anything! I am not a procrastinator, so when there is something that needs to be done, I usually think about it in terms of "that won't take too long" or "it best get done, or I will have worse things to deal with". Have you ever under-estimated the demands of the project at hand, or over-estimated the potential you had to actually complete it? If you are like me, you have started more than one thing which either could not be completed in the time frame you afforded yourself, or you became frustrated, over-extended and exhausted because the demands were just too great.

The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.  He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! (Psalm 111:7-10 ERV)

The idea of "starting" is frightening to some, because they don't actually have confidence they will be able to finish anything. They have tried so many times to just "start", but within a short period of time, they find what they started has become difficult or just doesn't hold their interest any longer. This might be okay if we are speaking of a hobby here, but living with Jesus isn't a hobby. It is a lifetime of "starting" each day with him, taking one step at a time, and starting again, if need be! There is no shame in "starting again". We might think there is some negative attached to having to start again, but in truth, isn't that what the backspace and delete keys are designed for on our keyboards? The anticipation we will make mistakes or that something will just "not be right" is inherent in all we do - we are human and humans frequently need to start again.

Our electricity went out the other night in a windstorm. That isn't a big deal as long as it comes on again in pretty short order. Even when it is off for more than a few seconds, all the electronic devices in the house have to be "reset". The satellite dish must reconnect with the receiver box, microwave clock demands resetting, and the ceiling fans must be set to "on" again. Why? The interruption in power "messed them up". They don't function as they should again until they are all "reset" to do what they were designed to do. Some of the devices have this nifty batter backup feature, resulting in them just "coming back on" as though nothing had interrupted their reception of power. Life isn't always that simple, but as long as we are "powered" by a source that keeps us even when we aren't feeling all that "powered", we will motor on!

There are those who won't start something if they even think there is a remote possibility they won't finish it, or finish it well. It doesn't take long to realize this philosophy can greatly impact what we "take on" in life. Nothing ventured is nothing gained - I don't Benjamin Franklin really is credited as the original source of this quote, he is frequently given credit for this "version" of it. It comes from a much earlier quote by Chaucer who actually used the words of a French proverb to indicate: He who never undertook anything, never achieved anything. Much of what we accomplish in life isn't because we mastered it before we started it - we somehow mastered it along the way! It takes "getting started" to get us to move toward mastery - not the other way around. I think we get this mixed up in our heads and our hearts when it comes to things like prayer, study of the Word of God, and even relationships. We don't get started because we don't feel we know all that needs to be done, or that we will do the thing well. May I just say - venture out a little bit. If you fall, so what? Get back up - step out again - fall again. It is part of mastering whatever it is that is before you! Just sayin!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Correct this...

“Lord God, with your great power you made the earth and the sky. There is nothing too hard for you to do." (Jeremiah 32:17 ERV)
What is your "too hard" point in life? At what "phase" in the development of events or alignment of the issues do you actually say this is just "too hard"? My grandsons have had to learn math, but not the "easy" way we might have learned growing up - for their "method" of teaching math these days is through something they refer to as the "common core". Honestly, this "newer math" is kinda hard! It almost borders on being "too hard" for this old gal to learn! Every now and again I get this pleading call from my daughter, asking me to help him over the phone with his math homework. It is one thing to see it, read through it a couple of times, and then figure out what they are trying to instruct him to do, but over the phone to just "hear it"...that just compounds the "hardness" of it! I think most of us do a combination of things to actually lay hold of our "lessons" in life - like seeing, hearing, feeling, etc. We are able to get past the "hardness" of it somehow because of the combined learning accomplished through our various senses.
At times, the events of life are just so terribly difficult for us to actually lay hold of, so we either want to just throw in the towel and say it is "too hard", or we persevere through, doing what we know how to do and hope for the best. "Hoping for the best" rarely gets us through in life, though. There are just times we need to arrive at the "right answer", not just a "close one". Whenever we simply accept things as "close enough", we might just be shutting out the potential God wants to add to the mix so that it isn't just "close", but it is "spot on" and "perfect". God isn't going to add to our muddle - he is going to help us see clearly, understand what it is we are hearing, get the most our of what we are feeling, and help us to put into words what he is doing in our lives. He is the power behind our life lessons - not just the instigator of them!
I don't have perfect vision, relying upon glasses to bring clarity, but at best, these extra lenses I rely upon give me a "close to perfect" picture. They get smudged, attract little particles of dust that distract from me seeing clearly, and occasionally even slip down my nose so that they aren't exactly in the right position to help me see clearly. I have to rely upon an optometrist to assist me in finding the right refraction of the lens - I don't have the ability to know what sphere or angle will accomplish the "correction" of what my eyes are incapable of doing on their own. Even with the "supplemental lenses", my vision might be corrected, but it isn't perfect. In life, there are things that get pretty close to "clear" for us, but at best, they are "corrected", not "perfect". Until we turn to Jesus and ask him to display his power wherever and whenever that power is most needed, we won't realize "perfection". We get "close", but it is possible God would get us even closer if we'd just get out of the way a little and let him take over! Just sayin!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Uneven balance

It was the late German theologian Thomas Kempis who reminded us how "seldom" it is that we actually "weighed" another by the same balance we use to weigh ourselves. We often find it easier to stand up for what we believe to be "right" in our own lives, but then overlook what might equally be right in the lives of another simply because we become so hyper-focused on their faults and our merits. As God handed down the Law of Moses, one of the particular things he required was "fair scales". He didn't want the people of Israel to become known as being "unfair" or "unethical" in their dealings with others. Their jars, baskets, and scales were all to be "correct measurements", so there would be no opportunity to take advantage of another. When we use "differing scales", we are taking advantage of others.

Stand up for what you know is right, and judge all people fairly. Protect the rights of the poor and those who need help. (Proverbs 31:8 ERV)


Kempis also reminded us the acknowledgement of our weakness is the very first step toward "repairing loss" in our lives. Anytime we overlook any weakness in ourselves, while hyper-focusing on it in others, we are actually creating a void that becomes deeper and wider between us. That void may not seem like much at first, but given time to expand and it will take a monumental work of bridge-building to get us back together! As our passage reminds us, it is our moral obligation to stand up for what is right - not just in ourselves, but in the lives of all those who surround us today. When we use unfair scales, we are standing up for what WE want to get out of a relationship, while often overlooking what it is the other person so desperately seeks.

To acknowledge one's own weakness FIRST is going to open the door for the relationship to develop open and honest communication, freedom of sharing, and a "bent" toward being our real selves. While my real self wears a halo that is a little bent, tarnished, and slightly askew, it soon becomes apparent to me that others suffer the same "condition". None of us has perfectly polished halos, although we may want others to think we do! Anytime we hold out the "polished" us as the one others "can see", we are using an unfair balance or scale. We are setting them up to believe the scales tip in our favor - but we forget how much is on the other side of the scale we don't want anyone to see! Rather than applying "unfair weights", let us learn what it is to use the same "scale" God uses - that of Christ himself. Any other scale is just a little too "uneven"! Just sayin!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Generous?

Give freely, and you will profit. Help others, and you will gain more for yourself. (Proverbs 11:25 ERV)

My pastor asked this question this weekend about giving and serving - do we give and serve without caring who gets the credit? It is quite telling to actually take inventory of each action behind our service to see if we are secretly desiring some credit or acknowledgement for what it is we have done. If we are honest, we might not always serve without the intent of getting the "credit we are due". 

As my pastor aptly said, the generosity of Jesus is what actually provides our ability to relate to God - for without that generosity, we'd still have sin between us and the throne of God. There is nothing accomplished within the church that doesn't stem from the first act of generosity. The simplest example of generosity is revealed in how we care for one another.

How do we care for each other? One of the ways we can reveal our sincerity in caring is through the generosity of our grace (even when the other guy or gal doesn't deserve ANY grace at all). We need to be radical in our generosity as it applies to grace, but it is probably the hardest thing for us to give without expecting anything in return. You can give without loving - but to really extend grace, we must give out of love.

Be generous long enough and it will become a natural part of who we are. Automatically we will respond with generosity - in grace, love, and compassion toward others. Just sayin!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Intrinsic or Extrinsic Power?

With God’s power working in us, he can do much, much more than anything we can ask or think of. To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever. Amen. 
What "power" do you possess - or maybe the best question is what "power" do you exhibit in your life? Back some years ago, the concept of "super-heroes" hit the television and big screen audiences everywhere. The "super-men" and "super-women" of these shows were able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, stop supersonic aircraft with the breath from their mouth, and somehow rescue every damsel in distress. In real life, rarely do we see this type of "power", nor do we this consistent intervention "just in the nick of time" into the situations where harm is about to wreak havoc in the lives of people. In real life, the "power" we rely upon is usually either intrinsic (stemming from within us) or extrinsic (someone else doing it for us). For believers, the power is both - intrinsic and extrinsic!
Christ "indwells" us - making his power our power. That means nothing comes against us that we don't have the "intrinsic" power to deal with. It also means there is nothing "extrinsic" with any greater power! This may not seem all that significant until we truthfully evaluate just which power "source" we are tapped into most of the time. The monsoons have arrived in Arizona, so power outages will abound for some due to tripped breakers at relay stations, downed power poles, and the like. When these "interruptions" in electrical power come upon us, we "feel" it - because the hot, hot air of the desert has no way of being cooled without that power. There are no real "deterrents" to the downed poles - for the extrinsic power of the high winds will have their way no matter how carefully we think we have planned.
The truth is evident - sometimes the extrinsic powers are not easily deterred. The one thing we can do to guard against their dangers is to have the right source of power intrinsically! If Christ is our main source of power - not our own will or determined focus - we have more power internally than anything that comes against us externally (even when it is trying to get on the inside of us). I have to tell on my daughter here - for the lightening and thunder still make her want her mommy a little bit! The "anger" or "fury" of the extrinsic forces are capable of some destruction, but as long as the right "force" is at work within us, the "damage" is extremely minimal! It isn't about what is coming against us as much as who it is that indwells us.  Just sayin!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

May you have many such jewels

It is not so much our friends' help that helps us, as the confidence of their help. (Epicurus)

If you have ever read the Proverbs, you will note there are a lot of passages that deal with the friends we keep, ranging from those that remind us to choose them wisely to realizing their strength in times of trouble. I would like to just spend a moment today contemplating just a few of these:

Good people are careful about choosing their friends, but evil people always choose the wrong ones. (12:26 ERV)

Choice of friends is key to both the direction and distance a relationship will travel. If we choose the right friends, they will be on course with where need to be heading, AND they will be with us through the entirety of the journey. We need both - the companionship along the way, but the wisdom and determination to help us make the best choices about the direction we take in life. If we choose wisely, the benefits are astronomical!

Be friends with those who are wise, and you will become wise. Choose fools to be your friends, and you will have trouble. (: ERV)

Conversely, the wrong choice in friends can lead to many a chaotic and unnecessary difficulty in life. When I look for someone to align my life with, I want to consistently choose someone who will "supplement" what I need most - bringing me perspective where I don't already have it. I don't always want to align with those who just "see things my way", because that limits my opportunity to see things differently. It also may not help me realize when the way I see things are contrary to the way God wants me to see them!

Forgive someone, and you will strengthen your friendship. Keep reminding them, and you will destroy it. (17:9 ERV)

We sometimes ruffle each other's feathers in relationship, but it isn't always a bad thing to get a little ruffled on occasion. It teaches us to see another's perspective in life, and the much needed quality of forgiveness done well! When we value the relationship, we learn how to successfully forgive - letting go of offenses and focusing on the extreme value of the relationship over any slight that would threaten to tear us apart.

A friend loves you all the time, but a brother was born to help in times of trouble. (17:17 ERV)

There is no greater help we can have than to know we have someone standing alongside us when we are in the midst of tough or touchy circumstances. What we get from that companionship is labeled as "help" in our passage, but we all realize "help" comes in many different forms. I think there is "help" in words, but also in actions. It comes in the form of a simple look that tells it all, as well as in laughing our way out of failures as we make our way into "trying again".

Some friends are fun to be with, but a true friend can be better than a brother. (18:24 ERV)

The "fun" ones may be the delight of the party, but the "true" one is the one who is there to cry with me, pull me up when I am down, and dust me off when the fall has left me less than "pure or clean". They aren't afraid to go the extra mile, nor are they looking for any "credit" for having done so! To have such a friend is to have what equates to a jewel in your crown! Here's hoping you all have at least one of these jewels in yours! Just sayin!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Hold on...it is gonna get bumpy

God’s way is perfect. The Lord’s promise always proves to be true. He protects those who trust in him. 
There are definitely times when I have to remind myself that God's ways are not always my ways and vice-versa. I can never forget that his ways are "perfect" - while mine are usually a little off-target on occasion! There are times in life when the contradiction between the two are actually what turns me back toward grace and further away from that which would only provide misery or harm in my life!
The perfect ways of God aren't always the easiest, but they are the best for us. Sometimes all we can do is "go with it" - keeping on course with his steps and trusting that we will understand where the path of those steps is leading us in the end. In the meantime, we may want to ask a whole bunch of questions and even question the validity of some of those steps, but there are times when we just have to trust and reveal that trust by taking those steps of obedience he asks us to take.
We can never lose sight of the truth of God's protection - his path will not lead us into what would be harmful for us - but toward what may actually reveal the gem hidden just beneath the surface in our lives! Notice our passage again - it reminds us that it is God's "way", not his "ways". This is not plural - there are not a whole lot of paths to obedience - there is simply one! It is based in trust and that trust is based upon the evidence of his love toward us, grace in operation in our lives, and the fact it is impossible for God to lie!
I am not above disobedience, nor am I above making my own way. That is relevant to you because I haven't reached perfection yet, just like the rest of you who are reading these words. We are ALL struggling to trust, ALL battling with following his steps totally without veering right or left (or turning around to run the other way for that matter), and ALL sometimes find ourselves wondering if it is all going to be worth the effort in the end.
In the meantime - we hold onto God's promises - good as our intentions may be, they don't hold a candle to what he has planned for us, promised to be ours in the end, and prepared for us to achieve with our lives. The path may be a little bumpy at times, but we need to "ride it out". It isn't until we experience the bumps of disobedience on occasion that we come to appreciate the beauty of the places of obedience he has prepared for us! Just sayin!